Case Study: Midlands Air Ambulance

Commercial Photography Brief

Client: Midlands Air Ambulance

Location: Tatenhill Airport, Staffordshire

One of the aspects of being a photographer I really enjoy is being able to donate my services to a good cause. As an aerospace engineer, there wasn’t a great deal I could do to help charities, friends or family. There aren’t many people who need help with their stress analysis on a regular basis!

So when I came across the Midlands Air Ambulance exhibiting at a business trade show in Malvern last year, I decided to introduce myself and find out if there were any opportunities to be of service.

I’ve always been into aircraft – I was a keen aero-modeller as a boy, continually making balsa wood model aircraft. It was my obsession really. I’d wake up early and be in the garage every day before school, then in the evening as soon as my homework was finished, I’d be back at it.

It probably explains why I went into aerospace engineering as an adult. Its something that’s always been on my radar. However, in my career, I got into a niche I wasn’t enjoying and had to make the change.

With photography, I’m able to explore interests from a new perspective. Using it as a ‘way in’ to different places and experiences.

Sure enough, a few weeks later I was contacted by Midlands Air Ambulance to say they were in need of a photographer for an upcoming promotion they were running. I jumped at the chance and we booked in a date for the shoot.

Tattenhill Airfield

The shoot was to take place at Tatenhill airfield in Staffordshire, where one of the helicopters and crew are based. Being within 2 hours of Ledbury, I was happy to travel there for the morning. And what a cracking winter’s morning it was too! One of those proper sunny and fresh mornings in December.

I arrived at the airfield and remembered I hadn’t been on an airfield in a while – I love it!

One of the perks of my first job in Cambridge was the company paying to put me through my Private Pilot’s Licence. It was an incredible experience and opportunity. Aside from the actual flying which was incredible, I used to love being out on the airfield. There’s an awesome sense of space, coupled with being surrounded by aircraft and the workings of an airfield, which appeals to the child in me. I think it’s the same reason why kids love things like railways and train tracks – they can see the order to them and how they function. That’s the same on an airfield – there’s a strict protocol to how the aircraft operate.

The Shoot – Meeting the Team

Upon arriving at the airfield, I met my contact there who introduced me to the team. As you can imagine for an organisation which does such great things for people, the team were a really great bunch! We immediately got chatting and it was clear this was going to be a fun photo shoot.

As the crew were there on site at the time, we decided we should get on with the shoot straight away. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but of course, they can be called at any moment and would have to make an immediate departure! So the more we could get done early on, the better. As it turned out, they didn’t receive a call the whole time I was there, so we were clear to do the shoot.

Out on the Airfield

The idea for the shoot was to create some images for an upcoming campaign they were launching with a hot chocolate brand. Some people from the drinks company were there for the shoot and we were to take some promotional images to launch the campaign.

After a short safety briefing (we would be crossing a taxiway), we were taken out to the aircraft.

The helicopter is kept in great condition, being ready to launch at any given moment. As such, it looked great – gleaming red in the low winter sun. At that time of year (mid-December) the sun doesn’t get very high in sky. From a photographer’s point of view, this is great. Although we would be photographing people out in the midday sun (the worst time of day for taking photos of people usually), the sun would be lighting them from a low angle, which looks great.

I got warmed up by taking a few shots of the helicopter on it’s own. It naturally looked great, sitting on its heli-pad all ready to go. I spent a few moments observing how it looked from various angles. Us photographers are always noticing where the sun is coming from and how it’s lighting our subjects.

I would shortly have a group of people to organise as well, so being prepared and knowing where I’d like them to stand was important.

Promo shot of the Midlands Air Ambulance Aircraft siting on the heli-pad
Commercial Photography for the Midlands Air Ambulance – Photo of the Helicopter

The Main Shoot

After a short while, the people I’d be photographing arrived at the helicopter. Having seen how the light was falling, I positioned everyone where I wanted them and we got the basic shots we needed.

Photography is always a collaborative effort and it’s the job of the photographer to put everyone at ease. This produces the best photographs for everyone. So I always like to ask clients on commercial photography shoots if they had any ideas for shots they’d like to do. In this case, they did have some ideas so I took those shots and also my own interpretation of them.

Bonus – Aircraft Tour

Once we’d finished getting the photos needed for the promotion, the pilot offered to give me a tour of the helicopter. I jumped at the opportunity of course! It turned out there was a chance for a small amount of industrial photography here as well.

First things first; I was allowed to sit in the pilot’s seat – it’s got to be done! Although I’ve flown small single-engine aircraft before, I’d never sat in a helicopter seat before. The view must be incredible when you’re flying, because the windshield is enormous. It completely surrounds you when you’re sitting in that seat.

After that, I was shown around the rest of the aircraft. It was particularly interesting to see how the stretcher mechanism worked. There’s two ways to get the patient in and out of the helicopter. Either using the rear double doors, or sliding them in through the side door. I photographed everything as I learned about how it worked.

This is a key point of photographing anything, whether at an industrial facility or on a commercial photo shoot. It really helps to understand the product you’re photographing. There may be features you didn’t know about, or you may see an angle that makes sense to shoot from. Either way, you need to understand the product or process to find those shots.

After a great couple of hours with the crew at Tatenhill, we were all wrapped up. I jumped in the car and drove back to Ledbury to start editing the photos and get them delivered in time for the promotion.

Are you a charity in need of commercial photography?

If you’re a charity that needs commercial or industrial photography, I’m always happy to have a chat to see if I might be able to help. So please contact me to discuss your ideas.